Bonus! Tips for taking photos in the snow

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Since snow is forecast for a good part of the country and throughout Europe as well, I thought I'd give you this little bonus resource for capturing your family in the snow!  There are a few challenging points when using your camera - or even just a phone in the snow, so here are some speedy tips for how to make your snow photos better

1. Looking after your camera in the snow / cold

If you come out from the warm and into the frost with your camera, chances are the glass elements will start looking foggy as the condensation on the internal elements takes hold.

When I know that I will be doing something like this, I put my camera in the cold porch in my home for some 20 - 30 minutes before I go out to give it time to adjust to the temperatures. If the temperature difference is not huge, you may get away with just going out and giving it a couple of minutes.  BTW, be aware as well, that in the cold your camera's battery will run out faster! 

photo by Jakob Owens

photo by Jakob Owens

Remember snow is still water! Cameras do not like water!

I like to get into the action with my camera, getting down on the ground to capture the kids zooming on the toboggans or getting in the middle of a snowball fight. I can't imagine not doing so - snow is fun! But listen - my camera and most of my pro lenses are weather sealed - this means they are likely to let in water droplets settling on the elements. So if your camera or lens is not weatherproof, covering it in snow can cause damage to it! A few snowflakes settling onto the body won't matter, but with heavy snowfall you need to take more care -  even a simple solution such as a plastic bag placed over the camera can do the trick. Try not to drop the camera in the snow either if you can help it!!

2. Problem - snow ends up looking grey/ blue

If you've tried taking photos of snow in the past and they ended up looking a bit blue-grey like this one - I have an explanation and a solution for you. 

The reason why your camera turns lovely white snow grey is all to do with the way it sees the world and calculates the exposure. You see, your camera is set up to capture elements that are not very dark or very bright - the middle of the road, not too bright, not too dark - what we call 'midtones' - is what it does best.

Left to its own devices, your camera always wants to give you a 'good' exposure. The problem here is that its interpretation of good exposure is just a bit wrong for white or black objects.  It sees that lovely white snow and thinks to itself - well, that grey is a bit bright, we must bring it back to that middle again and it underexposes it for you to get it away from the extreme which results in those grey looking photos. 

Adjusting your exposure for snow: 

You want to overexpose by 0.5 - 1 exposure stop - this will vary with the weather - with bright sunshine you usually want less overexposure than with overcast skies.. Depending on what you know about your cameras, there are simple or more complicated options to do this

  • If you shoot in manual - this is simple, just overexposure with your settings - I would use the ISO to give you a little bump. simply taking the iso from 200 - 400 gives you an extra exposure stop without compromising the quality in the slightest. But as always, adjust the settings thoughtfully to still get the right balance of aperture vs shutter.
  • If you shoot in priority modes such as Aperture or Shutter priority - use the Exposure Compensation setting on your camera ( you will find it either in your menu or on the camera buttons - look for one with a +/- symbol on it). This will open a little scale that typically goes from -3 to +3 and by default is set to 0 in the middle. Nudging it towards +1 will override what your camera thinks the exposure should look like and give you brighter photos. Just remember to bring it back to 0 afterwards or you'll be overexposing all your photos! 
  • If you're shooting in full auto - you don't have control over how your camera exposes I'm afraid - it just does its thing. But I would look to see if your camera has any dedicated 'snow' shooting modes ( some do!). Failing that, switch to Program mode ( P ) - most cameras above the simple compact will have this option. It's essentially an Auto mode that you can tweak - and this includes setting your Exposure compensation as explained above.
  • if you're shooting on your phone - things are simpleJust point your phone towards the snow scene and tap on the screen to bring up the exposure ( brightness) control and slide it up to brighten the photo up. That's it! 

Warm it up! - white balance adjustment

Even when you lift the exposure, you can still end up with blue-ish looking photos. It helps to adjust your white balance a little - I find that either Cloudy preset on the White balance options or if shooting in Kelvin - a bump up to about 6500 - 7000K will make it better. 

3. Capturing the action

If you want to capture falling snow and want to make sure it looks more like snowflakes rather than lines, you need to make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough.

Controlling your shutter speed

In daylight, especially if the day is not too gloomy, you shouldn't have a problem with slow shutter speed, because it's intrinsically linked to available light and the more of it it sees, the faster it can go. So typically, on a bright-ish day, especially with snow reflecting the light back at you, you shouldn't need to mess with your shutter speed even if you shoot in full auto mode. But on a gloomier day or towards the end of the day, the light will be less strong and your shutter speed slower. 

  • If you're shooting in manual or priority modes - you can control your shutter speed easily - aim for a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster if you can!  keep your aperture nice and wide and use the ISO to enable you to keep these settings. 
  • If you're shooting on Auto - try switching to a sports setting or similar - it will prioritise speed over other things, but you won't have quite as much control so you may just need to embrace the motion blur. 
  • If you're shooting on your phone - and have a Pro mode, you should have the option to control your shutter speed. Again - aim for a similar value - 1/250s or faster. It will be easier the brighter the light is. 

What to shoot in the snow?

Take a wide view to show off the snowy scenery

I love w snow covered scenery - a walk in the snow covered woods is a thing to soothe your soul. I always take care to make sure I can capture the wider view before anything else. I like to show the scale of the space compared to my small people. 

Look for the frosty details

The way that frost and snow cling to branches is absolutely stunning. Frost flowers on windows is also something I can't get past without capturing it

Capture the action

I'm not one to 'pose' my kids and if I can help it, I don't want to tell them what to do. But If I helpfully suggest a snow fight (including trying to pelt Mum with the snowballs) or sledging down a hill, they are always happy to oblige. 

Top tips : 

  • fast reflexes! I love my kids kicking up or throwing snow towards me because the action looks great and dynamic in the images. But we already covered why snow = water = camera not happy, so if you do have a play in the snow, make sure you can duck out of the way fast enough! Or just use your phone! 
  • when capturing your kids coming down on toboggans, position yourself towards the bottom of the hill and have the kids slide towards you. Get low on the ground for a better vantage point. Use burst ( drive) mode on your camera so that you can capture multiple shots of them coming down with one click of the shutter button. Trust me, you won't have the time otherwise - those things go fast!  If you can, switch your focus mode to continuous or tracking to give yourself the best chance of capturing the action sharp! 

Winter light is a thing of beauty

I am a bit obsessed with winter light - it's warm in colour against all odds and can shimmer and shine on the snow. Look for the haze coming through the trees, look for the sparkling reflections in the snow. It can absolutely make the images you take! 

Lastly - don't forget to have fun with your kids! Take some photos but put that camera away and join in the fun!